Academy president: 'I was appalled' hearing Ratner on Howard Stern
A day after announcing that Brian Grazer would take over as co-producer of the Oscar show after Brett Ratner dropped out, Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences President Tom Sherak answered questions about the debacle, the loss of Eddie Murphy as host, and efforts to get the broadcast back on track.
Was it the gay slur or the Howard Stern show that lost Ratner his job?
It was both. I had already said in a statement that I was going to give him another chance, but that he was not to do it again. The academy is a special place. It’s about integrity in every way, shape or form. It’s spent its entire eightysomething years trying to be above in what his mission is.
It was the accumulation. It wasn’t just one thing. He did everything he could. He apologized right away. I stood behind him. It was wrong, reckless, all those things. But I’ve been brought up that you give someone a second chance if they do not do it maliciously and he did not do that maliciously. I looked at it that way. When he looked at it the next day … he understood it. He got it. I appreciate that also. It had to happen. He went a step over the line in the accumulation of the things he did.
Did you receive a lot of pressure, phone calls from academy members upset with his behavior?
There was no question that a lot of people called and complained. The answer is yes. I got a lot of emails, 50 emails … People were upset. They had a right to be upset. It’s their organization, and people need to speak out when they are upset. They were upset by both things. Some by the first, some by the second. I think the first statement I made, don’t do it again, the bottom line is all those things came in, but I didn’t look at as pressure, I looked at it as expressing how they felt. I didn’t look at it as pressure but people caring about the organization. The organization didn’t do this, he did this. Yes he worked for us.
He knew he crossed the line. He resigned because he didn’t want to hurt the academy or me. He knew he had gone too far. He was trying to protect us.
Do you regret hiring him?
Not at all. Not one bit. Would I do it again? The answer is, I would have done it again based on the interview I had. I knew a bit about him and his career and I’ve known him for a long time. Not close. I believed and so did [academy CEO] Dawn [Hudson] that he would give us a great show. That’s what we were looking for, a great show. He brought us someone who gave us a lot of press with Eddie. Think about that, we were talking about the Academy Awards in August. Everybody has an opinion. Based on him coming in and talking to us, I would have.
A lot of people said you shouldn’t be surprised, this fits his personality. But were you surprised by his behavior?
Yes, I was surprised. Yeah.
I believe you live in a world where the good is going to come out of everything. It was about the show, and I thought he’d give us a good show. People do things in their lives. I don’t know that he’s ever done anything illegal. He’s a human being. We all have flaws. A lot of people thought it was a mistake and they said it. It turns out he said things he shouldn’t have said.
Did Scott Rudin call and yell at you?
No. I’ve known Scott since I came out here in 1983 and he would never, ever yell at me. It wouldn’t happen.
There was no panic at the academy. Ever. The reason why [is that] people in our industry came out of the woodwork to help. I’ve been doing this 2½ years and we are trying to engage people to do more at the academy, you want to talk about emails and phone calls. I’ve got lists of people who wanted to be hosts. I never get that. Big names, small names, make-up artists, it didn’t matter. How can I help the academy? [I thought] wow, I don’t have anything to worry about.
We are still ahead of where we were last year with the show. We didn’t have a host last year until 2½ weeks later than now. [Don] Mischer [the show’s co-producer] has been working since August. We are in good shape. Bottom line is there was an outpouring of support from our members. Talk about calming when these people want to help their organization. They want to be involved.
It would be unfair, because a lot of them could have produced the show. Bottom line is when we heard from Brian [and his team], they were one of the first ones. You need our help, we are in.
Was there any concern about hiring Brian [who produced Ratner’s latest film, “Tower Heist,” starring Murphy], did you want to distance yourself from the “Tower Heist” team?
A picture comes out and it goes away. No one in our business has 100% success. “Tower Heist” is “Tower Heist.” It’s over to me. It opens. It will play out. If Brian wasn’t concerned about it, why would I be?
There’s going to be no attempt to get Eddie back into the fold?
No, that’s why you saw the release about Eddie go out so early. Eddie signed on because of Brett, like a movie. He didn’t want to do it. He didn’t know what we were doing. I get it. He did what he thought was best and I respect him for that. Would I have liked Eddie to stay, yeah. I would have. But that wasn’t my call.
So why Brian?
I said it in my statement yesterday. He’s really talented. I think he’ll add his own touch to the show, something that I hope the audience will like. He understands the academy. He’s an academy winner. I’m hoping the choice is the right one. I believe it is wholeheartedly. He wanted it and we are proud he’s doing it. Don and him met yesterday for the first time, for 1½ hours.
They hope to have a host in the next week. The host has to fit into the kind of show they want. They will come to me and they’ll see who wants to do it and we’ll talk to ABC and we’ll go with that.
What happens to the writers that Ratner hired?
The producers will figure that out. Brian has to work with Don on how he perceives the show. Some Eddie writers might not want to stay on. I don’t know.
Do you think this hiccup tarnishes the academy?
Someone the academy hired to perform a very important function messed up, messed up badly. He’s done everything he can, but this is him. The academy did what it needed to do by accepting his resignation when he offered it. Does it tarnish it? I hope not. If someone feels it does, then we will work really hard getting the tarnish off. It wasn’t us, it was someone who worked for us. It’s like anything else. I hope not. We are going to continue to do what we do, which is support the arts and the technology of arts, and we want to be as above the fray as we can be.
Does Ratner keep his academy membership?
Does he come to the show?
No, he doesn’t come to the show. He’d feel uncomfortable and he’d think he’d take away from the show. I think you’ll see him making amends for the first thing he said by doing a lot of outreach. I think the second thing he did will help him grow up.
How did it go down? You issued the [initial] statement [supporting Ratner] the morning he was on Howard Stern.
But I didn’t hear Howard Stern into that night. I don’t listen to that show. I’m not a listener, I think I’m out of the demographic. I got an email. Have you heard Howard Stern? Later in the day I went home. I put it on and I started listening to it. Next morning he resigned.
What were your thoughts when you heard it?
I knew why I don’t listen to Howard Stern. I felt appalled. Oh my gosh, oh wow. Thank God my wife didn’t hear it. I was appalled. Brett called me the next day he said, ‘Tom, I need to resign.’ I said thank you. He said I’m not going to hurt the academy or you and I have to fix it. I have to resign.
-- Nicole Sperling
Photo: Academy president Tom Sherak, middle, poses with the producers of last winter's Oscar ceremony, Bruce Cohen, left, and Don Mischer before the annual Oscar nominees luncheon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times